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Jim Hart, the subject of the following article, is my nephew. He has strong feelings about his annual mission to Africa. He gave me permission to share this article with you. Ed Jones, the editor of the Free Lance Star, also gave his permission. Jim has spent some time in Grantsville through the years. He and wife Karen were here for a visit about two years ago when we had a blizzard in Grantsville. He is the son of Jeanne Rampp Hart, who was known throughout Methodism in West Virginia as a youth director and an accomplished organist.

EDITOR’S VOICE by Ed Jones, from Free Lance Star

Area reaches out to help struggling continent of Africa

It’s easy to get down about Africa. Just read the headlines.

Scores more hacked to death in Congo. Thousands desperate for food in Zimbabwe. Military coups in Mauritania and Guinea.

And yet the struggle continues to free the continent from the scourge of violence, corruption and, yes, fatigue. There are enough success stories--in South Africa, Botswana, Ghana and elsewhere-- to spur the reformers on.

America has been, and must continue to be, part of the effort.

Sometimes overlooked amid the heavy criticism of the Bush administration’s foreign policy is the generous anti-AIDS program that has had a major impact on Africa. So have the Bush initiatives that have attempted to link foreign aid to democratic growth.

There has been action on the local level, too. Fredericksburg had its own sister city in Princess Town, Ghana, a relationship that has the potential to inspire both cities.

But it’s the private sector, particularly among communities of faith, where U.S.-Africa ties seem to be strengthening the most.

Churches all over the area have reached out to those in need in Africa, sometimes one person or one soul at a time. Spotswood Baptist Church in Spotsylvania County is one of the congregations that has made Africa a priority. Plans are under way for a 12th trip by church members to the rural coastal plain that stretches from southwest Guinea into neighboring Sierra Leone.

It’s a place of rutted roads and intermittent power, but it’s also full of beautiful vistas, with mountains in the distance, and neighborhood porches where villagers talk on warm nights about everything from harvests to biblical stories.

Dr. James Hart, who happens to be my veterinarian, has been the church’s team leader on many of these trips. He was reluctant to step into the media spotlight, but agreed to share with me some of his observations from his many weeklong forays into West Africa.

The Spotswood group’s main purpose is to follow the lead of the resident missionaries. They know how the U.S. visitors can help local people dig wells and otherwise meet basic needs without creating a dependency on outside help.

Hart, who “accepted Christ” in 1996, describes another challenge--to avoid going to Africa with a preconceived notion of changing the world. As Hart puts it, the church members need “to respect the culture,” which is overwhelmingly Muslim.

That doesn’t stop the Spotswood travelers from showing a film about Jesus, thanks to power from a portable generator. There also are those nighttime chats about the Bible around the village.

The goal is to “plant seeds” of faith with a people unreached by Christianity, not to create a religious or cultural dependency. There is, for example, no church in the village.

Hart stresses the importance of personal contact with people whose friendship he now cherishes. “It’s more about being there than doing things,” he said.

Another lesson, said Hart, is the appreciation Westerners gain for the bounties of their lives. A glimpse of the Third World makes you realize how the needs of so many Americans have been met “to the point of excess,” Hart said. “We have way too many things. We’ve lost track of relationships.”

That’s why America’s attention to Africa is a two-way street. We have a lot to learn from the people who traverse the dusty roads of Guinea. Don’t let those headlines scare you off.

*          *          *          *          *

Pastor Greg Swisher, a member of our community for the last 52 months, is leaving. Even though he has been a weekend resident, he will miss us and we will miss him and his family.

They have been active participants in our weekend activities, such as fun days, rallies, festivals, athletic events and activities at First Baptist Church.

Greg is the grandson of the late Herb and Edith Smith. He spent many happy times in Grantsville, and will always remember the warm friendships he leaves behind.

Why is he leaving? He came here because God said, “I want you in Grantsville.”

He is leaving because God said, “I have new plans for you and also for First Baptist Church.”

We thank God for the influence he has had on our lives and community.

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